A whole grain grown in over a hundred countries and used by mankind for over a thousand years, barley has many healthful properties. With its rich, chewy texture and nutty flavour, this grain that was wildly popular in the yesteryears still proves to be an excellent addition to a wholesome modern diet

Your grandmother may have wisely believed in serving the household barley water everyday. Once considered a top grain in the nutritional charts, but long since overtaken by rice and wheat, barley isn't as popular as it was thirty years ago. However, the world is now re-awakening to its healthful properties and it's not hard to see why.

Filling fibre, hearty digestion

Just one serving of barley provides more than half of the recommended daily intake of fibre. It also promotes the growth of pre-biotics (the nutritive substance that encourage the growth of certain types of beneficial bacteria in the intestine), helping your digestion along and keeping your metabolism stoked. "Nutrition rich barley is used for lowering blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and for promoting weight loss," says Pallavi Sawant, a sports nutritionist based in Mumbai. "Barley can be consumed by healthy individuals of any age. Since it is considered a food with a low GI (glycemic index) and it slowly releases glucose into the blood stream, it is most beneficial for diabetics, especially for people with Type 2 diabetes. Research says that Blood glucose and insulin homeostasis is maintained better with barley than with oats. It acts in the same way that diabetic medication does to lower sugar levels in the body. But consuming barley along with medicine can decrease effectiveness of medications. So, 200gms of barley after taking oral Diabetes medicine is generally recommended."

For fussy kids and modern mums

Today, nutritional deficiencies abound, especially in our children, who are always on the run and under pressure to perform. Sawant recommends barley juice every day to help teens meet their nutritional requirements. "This improves their stamina and their ability to cope with stress. Eventually, it even helps improve their grades," she says. But most children may not take to barley water, which is a tad too plain and boring, but there are other creative ways of dressing up this healthy wholegrain. "Barley dosa with spices is the best option for morning breakfast," says Pallavi. "Barley takes time to soak so make sure that you immerse the whole grain in water for at least for 8hrs. You can then blend it, mix it with yoghurt for a barley smoothie. It can also be added to vegetable soups. Just ensure that the vegetables are not overcooked. Barley chicken soup with veggies is a delicious option for non-vegetarians. One can also mix barley flour with regular wheat flour for highly nutritious rotis."

Rich benefits of barley grass

The health benefits of barley grass, (hordeum vulgare), the leafy growth of the young barley plant is not as well-known, nor as well-documented as barley, but it is just as versatile. "Barley grass can be easily absorbed throughout the digestive tract, giving our body access to vital nutrients," says Dr Nupur Krishnan, director of Bio-logics Nutrition Clinics, Mumbai. "Barley grass is a whole food providing many essential nutrients that act together, optimizing bodily functions and detoxifying the body of the heavy metals and pollutants that we encounter daily." One of the reasons for its detoxification effect is its high level of chlorophyll.

Many of the vitamins, minerals and enzymes present in barley grass act as powerful antioxidant, protecting our body from free radical damage, supporting our immune system and cardiovascular health. "Barley grass is a rich source of dietary fibre which is good for colon health and (bowel) regularity. Sports people have used it as it is a nutrient rich food that is also packed with energy. It is naturally alkaline and it helps to neutralize excess acidity in the body when consumed," says Dr Nupur. "Barley grass can also help you recover from anaemia. It reduces blood sugar and therefore aids in diabetes and weight loss. Eighteen amino acids are found in barley grass, including the eight essential ones – that is, the amino acids that we must get from out diets; the body cannot produce them itself. It is also rich in natural levels of the Enzyme SOD (superoxide dismutase), a powerful antioxidant that protect cells. While exaggerated claims should be treated with caution, the impressive list of illnesses that show improvement when people add barley grass to their diet make it well worth considering if you suffer from any of the following conditions: arthritis, asthma, blood clots, cancer, excessive low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the ‘bad’ cholesterol), blood sugar issues, (including hypoglycemia and diabetes), fatigue, migraine, inflammation and related pain, stomach and intestinal disorders." An exhaustive list, it's reason enough to add this wholegrain to your meal plans! You can also look for barley grass powder which also contains plenty of vitamins and minerals. It is available in the 100 g packaging that usually lasts a month. Avoid food for half an hour before and after consumption.

Balance barley in your diet

Accommodating barley in your diet and increasing your intake should be a gradual process, otherwise you may experience bloating and flatulence. Plan your barley meals in small quantities everyday and slowly savour this very first grain cultivated by the human hand.

Keywords: Barleywholegraincereals